Clear Bottom Kayak Excursion to Three Sisters Springs
A couple of weeks ago, Pat Manfredo and I were invited to join the team at Hunter Springs Kayaks for a photo shoot with their brand-new clear-bottom kayaks. We said, “YES,” so Saturday morning we drove to Crystal River bright and early.
It was my first time launching from Hunter Springs in a kayak. This public park is owned by the City of Crystal River and is user-friendly. There is a playground, restrooms, pavilion, barbecues, along with a nice boardwalk with great manatee viewing – and a kayak launch. The park is located at 101 NE 1st Avenue and has limited paid parking.
A couple of blocks away is Hunter Springs Kayaks. With our friendly group of paddlers we gathered at the bright, colorful and clean store. I was impressed with the outdoor changing rooms, clean restrooms, variety of merchandise and cheerful, helpful staff – even at 8 in the morning!
We walked to the park. Our kayaks were set up at the launch and they are SWEET! Twelve feet long and stable as can be with clear, clean bottoms to see the surf and sand below! Seats were installed for each kayak and 4” cushions added to the comfort factor. Personal floatation devices and paddles were included.
Dave brought a drone for overhead pictures and piloted a stand-up paddleboard, Taela also paddled a SUP with skill and grace. The rest of us went out tandem in the new clear-bottom kayaks and creating a sort-of water parade.
We each began our adventure paddling up Hunters Run toward Kings Bay, around Pelican Point, and to the Three Sisters Springs, our destination. This is a guided tour that Hunter Springs Kayaks offers.
Hunters Run is surrounded by homes on both sides and the channel is fairly wide. We encountered all sorts of manatee tour boats, kayaks, paddleboards, pontoon boats, scalloping charters, and even jet skis.
On the left side of the run is a publicly owned section of the river bank that Dave Perry explained, “was purchased by the City of Crystal River to provide a place for manatees to receive health care and checkups by Florida Fish and Wildlife biologists.” This warmed my heart.
I have witnessed a manatee rescue. It is quite a complex process with twenty to thirty people involved, working together to capture, evaluate, transport and care for a sick or injured wild animal that may weigh 1,000 pounds. By having this shallow, safe area dedicated to their care, the process is improved, and the animals can be better cared for.
We went around the bank into Kings Bay. This large, spring-fed body of water is open and beautiful. The waves shine, reflecting the sunlight and the blue sky. Pelicans fly by. Large cumulus clouds meander overhead. Although much of the shoreline is developed, the expanse of open water provides a feeling of freedom on the seas.
Our group is hoping to see manatees on our journey, but the novelty of looking at the water through our kayak floor is keeping us pretty well entertained with paddling, photos and gratitude for being in an environment as breathtakingly beautiful as this keeping our joy fresh.
We progressed past Pete’s Pier, under Kings Bay Drive and toward Three Sisters Springs. These kayaks are steady and track well. Pat and I have found a nice rhythm and when my arms start to tire, she picks up the slack. When she is shooting, I propel us forward.
What a great life!
As we approach the turn leading to Three Sisters’ entrance, more boats are in sight. Saturday means locals, visitors, and commercial watercraft traffic are at their peak. The manatee sanctuaries are not set up in the summer, and so we watch swimmers, tours, and kayaks intermingle as we wait our turn to enter the short run into the springs.
Paddling up, I feel a general sense of anticipation. The water under my “window to the sea” has gone from dark and a little murky to clear and deep, and going up the spring run it is crystal clear with a sandy bottom – each rock, leaf, log and fish we pass over is available to our eyes.
And then we are there.
Three Sisters Springs opens up like a cathedral of nature, welcoming us. The vibrant water is surrounded by trees and rocks and a wooden boardwalk provides the opportunity for land-based visitors to experience its opulence without feeling the 72-degrees of wet.
Our group congregates and begins to disembark, enjoying the cool refreshment of swimming in paradise. We are careful to exit the kayaks one-at-a-time without tying off or disturbing the shore and using caution on the slippery rocks.
Donning our snorkels and masks, we are ready to play! Diving down to feel the power of the water gushing through a spring vent, kicking and splashing to our hearts content. Our inner children are ecstatic. Taking pictures from the air, from the side of the kayaks, from in the water – and then we discover the fun of photographing swimmers through the kayaks’ glass bottoms.
This group of people know how to have good clean, and, dare I say, safe fun. Too soon it is time to go back. No manatees are in Three Sisters, and as we exit through the run, more visitors are entering. The tide continues both ways.
Almost immediately, a manatee is spotted from a tour boat. The information moves through the group of nature lovers that are near. We all want to see, to experience, that manatee; but we do not want to scare or overwhelm the lone sea cow.
Onto open water in Kings Bay we paddle. We see Cormorants, a turtle lounges on a downed palm tree trunk along the shore, mullet jump, and we are passed by larger motor vessels. Our little band continues merrily paddling along.
It is a privilege to share the water and we do so with respect.
As we are paddling back toward Hunter Springs Park, a mother and calf manatee are spotted within twenty feet of our brigade.
Slowing down, we do our best to get a picture of the duo as they glide under our kayak. This is amazing to watch through the glass of the kayak’s floor.
Around the bend to Hunters Run we turn. The channel is crowded and somewhat noisy, but there is an order to the participants.
We spy more manatees. Another mother and calf.
We pull out of the traffic to see if they would like to interact with us and are rewarded with the opportunity to commune with them from our kayak. This makes me feel very special, almost “chosen”. After ten minutes, they swim off and we continue our journey.
At Hunter Springs Park, a loud, happy crowd is enjoying the cool water on a hot, humid day. Children are laughing and jumping. Parents are chillaxing, and boats are everywhere.
We glide into shore on our super-cool clear bottom kayaks. Guides are waiting to help us get out and take care of putting the boats back. We gladly walk back to Hunter Springs Kayaks to shop for souvenirs and change into dry gear.
What a great experience. Can’t wait to do it again.